Opinion: Village Matters

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Life’s Bargains

ann christoph

Black Phoebes are birds that frequent our yard every spring and summer. Balancing for a few seconds on the clothesline and then darting down and flitting around to capture insects. But we also have a Black Phoebe in the house and she is a cat. This cat came from the rescue organization months ago. If she had been in a roomful of cats no one would have picked her. She looks like she’s had a hard life already—she has a crook at the end of her tail and a slit in one ear. Her back legs turn out in an unusual way and her toenails show at the top of her feet. Her black fur is unremarkable and flecked with gray in a few places.   

Why did we get her? The note from the foster home said she didn’t claw the furniture.  That was a recommendation that impressed me. We already have a perfect cat, Reggie, an orange female who doesn’t claw the furniture or knock things off of shelves, who uses the box without tracking litter all over the floor, and best of all is super cute and lovable. She has just recently started amusing herself by tipping over water glasses on purpose, but at the time we got Black Phoebe we had discerned no faults at all. I thought it would be nice for Reggie to have a companion, but I was reluctant to get another cat that might start in on the couch we had just reupholstered—or cause some other problem.

So you see the furniture saving habit was critical to my decision. When we went to pick her up they said she might be a bit shy, but they had confidence we would have the patience to help her adjust. 

Within the first few days she somehow escaped from the small room we had set aside for her orientation, and disappeared. We didn’t see her for two days. Searching under beds and in closets and other possible hiding places produced nothing. We thought that somehow she must have gotten outside.

Then on the third day we saw a black streak headed for the food dish. Now it is five months later and she is just beginning to spend time on the window sills, or relaxing on top of the bed instead of under it. Perhaps at the foster home she was too scared to claw the furniture but we have caught her tackling the side of the love seat and the edge of the sofa. Indeed she must be adjusting well enough to engage in her normal behavior.

So now I need to examine my motives for decision-making.  Perhaps my motives were faulty and selfish and now I must pay the price—or learn a lesson in acceptance. 

Life doesn’t bargain with us. It just keeps giving us whatever it feels like. Black cats and all, viruses, kindness, beauty and injustice.  Logical decision-making takes us only so far. If we are optimists we can say it all happens for a reason. And sometimes we can see a reason in retrospect. Sometimes we see mistakes we could have avoided and try to apply what we’ve learned. But mostly it’s a series of new ballgames and we’re along for a sometimes bumpy, but stimulating, challenging and sometimes joyous ride. Is it a delusion we are accomplishing something every day? 

Bit by bit Black Phoebe is happier and more comfortable, day after day Alfredo and I are having quiet times together, we hope safe from the virus. We’re learning a new way of life mastered by electronics. We’re all giving more time to thinking about our lives, where we’re going as individuals, families, communities and country. Life keeps coming at us but we’re also pushing back and pushing forward with our own energy. Together a stream, a force for something new, more just, and more beautiful.

Ann is a landscape architect and former Laguna Beach mayor.

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